The 9 Best 3D Printing Pens
The Manufacturing Power Of Cheese
Back when 3D printing pens first hit the market, I was immensely skeptical of my ability to manipulate one without embarrassing myself.
Something about it was actually easier for me than simply drawing on paper, so I had to investigate the mechanics of the device to quench my curiosity.
Two of the absolute truths by which I live my life are as follows: I love Paris, and I cannot draw. As a romantic gesture, I attempted to draw a picture of a girl I was dating some years ago, and when she saw it she refused to speak to me for three days. I'm that bad.
Back when 3D printing pens first hit the market, I was immensely skeptical of my ability to manipulate one without embarrassing myself. Imagine if I had made a 3D rendering of this nice girl. She might have killed me.
But I picked up the 3Doodler at a friend's house and was instantly in love. Something about it was actually easier for me than simply drawing on paper, so I had to investigate the mechanics of the device to quench my curiosity.
To understand how a 3D printing pen operates, it helps to know something about ABS plastic. ABS stands for Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. I'll give you a minute to sound that one out.
Got it? Okay. The thing that makes ABS plastic so special is that it's incredibly inexpensive and it has a glass transition temperature of about 221˚F, which means that if you raise its temperature any higher than that, the material attains the consistency of melted cheese.
Here's a good one: How did the hipster burn the roof of his mouth? He ate his pizza before it was cool.
Unlike melted cheese, which takes a good long while to cool down, ABS, especially in the thin strands emitted by 3D printing pens, cools very quickly, stabilizing as soon as the strand of plastic drops back below its glass transition temperature.
Between moments of melting and cooling, a 3D printing pen pushes the material slowly outward like a glue gun guiding and melting glue toward a thin metal tip that operates as a pen tip would on paper. Within the span of about one second, the emitted ABS cools and hardens, forming your three-dimensional shape.
Printing From A Creative Spark
I know what I like in a pen. I like a retractable ball point with a metal body and as few plastic elements as possible. I don't do gel-based inks because I never pick my hand up enough from letter to letter when I'm writing, and gel inks leave too much of a trail behind if you don't have proper technique. I prefer blue ink and a fine point.
If you get a chance to operate one or more of the pens on our list, you definitely should.
This is the level of self-knowledge you ought to have when evaluating your choice of 3D printing pens. If you get a chance to operate one or more of the pens on our list, you definitely should. At the very least, try to get your hands on one of the 3D printing pens with a long range of available temperature settings, so you can get a feel for the temperature range and filament speeds that best suit your drawing style.
If you're just getting started with 3D printing, it would also be a boon to your skills to invest in a pen that comes with a good number schematics with which you can practice. These can be anything from building outlines to letter and number stencils, and as you use them, you'll find that it's relatively easy to make your own.
More advanced consumers should look for a 3D printing pen that works with multiple plastics, so you aren't limited to just ABS, and you can expand the scope of your creativity across platforms and into the depths of your imagination.
From Corporate Research To Consumer Recreation: The Path Of The 3D Printer
Now, I mentioned Paris a moment ago. That's because I love Paris, but you may have noticed that almost every purveyor of 3D printing pens has it in their heads that their customers all want to make a 3D replica of the Eiffel Tower. Maybe they're big Minecraft players.
What I encourage anyone looking into their first 3D printing pen to consider is that these devices sprung from the advent of the 3D printer in the early 1980s.
I get it: the interwoven beams ascending toward a complex and thought-provoking spire seem difficult to recreate, and yet each of these pens can do it. In fact, as you look to the breakdowns and advertising copy of each of these 3D pen brands, you'll see more recognizable shapes–bugs, words, people, etc.–than anything else, which is sad.
What I encourage anyone looking into their first 3D printing pen to consider is that these devices sprung from the advent of the 3D printer in the early 1980s. Those initial 3D printers used photo-hardening polymers that required more time to set than the advanced ABS plastics used in today's models, but the concept and the intention were more or less the same: To make never-before-seen stuff.
In the 30 years hence, most 3D printing took place in R&D departments where prototypes could be mapped out and tested for viability before ordering large production runs. This saved companies untoward amounts of money in potentially immature design concepts through which they could now weed to their hearts' content at little to no cost.
More recently, as 3D printers and their plastic molding materials have become more ubiquitous and less expensive, it has become a common practice among small businesses to create products for sale directly from one or more 3D printers, until they grow large enough in size to justify expanding to professional manufacture.
The 3Doodler was not far behind, and in 2013, a Kickstarter campaign by WobbleWorks funded the shipment of the earliest 3D printing pens.